Case study: Craig Dettling
When I spoke with Craig six months ago in early summer 2018-19, he indicated that a drier winter resulted in better pasture utilisation.
However, the dry conditions continued with spring rainfall being only about half of what is normally received, resulting in crops being behind in growth and the bugs were getting into them.
This meant that the order of feeding out crops and hay was reversed, with hay feeding starting much sooner in early November last year.
A storm event bringing around 60 mm of rain in the first couple days of summer meant the poorly germinated crops started growing and the grass got a boost, particularly given normal application of nitrogen continued.
Trigger points for the rest of the summer and the following autumn both revolved around how well both crops yielded and grass grew prior to and after the calving date of the 1 April.
When I spoke with Craig this time around (early June this year, 2019), he said:
“Summer and autumn was a disaster rainfall event and pasture growth-wise. After 16 millimetres of rain in December, we virtually had nothing or very little rain right through until May.
For the YTD up until the start of May we only had 74 millimetres. And then we got another 72 millimetres in May.
According to BOM climate data, this autumn just gone, was the poorest recorded for the Macarthur weather station nearest (and close by) to where we farm since 1900. Even our dairy management strategies for the worst case scenario that we had in place wasn’t enough.
Although our nine-week calving spread was on target, given autumn 2019 was trending along in the worst case climate outlook scenario and we couldn’t find any decent priced supplements to buy-in, we actually began selling off our dairy herd and fast tracked our transitioning plans into the beef industry.
We’d done a first cull earlier and cut back probably by 25 per cent in late December when we started drying-off the milking herd even earlier than the summer before (2018).
Heading to the beef side was part of our long-term farming plans. We had put the whole dairy herd to Hereford semen last year with plans at that stage set for two to three milking seasons maximum for transitioning totally from dairy into beef.
Having fast tracked our move into the beef industry plans this autumn just gone, we are pretty much out of dairying now.
We stopped supplying the dairy factory on 30 May 2019. Now at the beginning of winter 2019, we have 380 beef calves of varying ages on the farm.
Of these, 260 are weaned Friesian bull calves that we have bought-in over the last year and the remaining 100 are unweaned calves made up of 50 biggest ones that we kept from our milking herd and 50 Angus cross calves that we bought-in.
We are still milking 40 dairy cows to supply milk to all unweaned calves.
We’ll keep these dairy cows for at least six months and continue to buy-in unweaned beef calves and use buy-in and use milk powder as we need it.
We still have a bit of brassica crop left that we are currently grazing the weaned bull calves on. Our beef enterprise is focusing on the ‘finishing’ market. So, the beef animals we turn off this property will be sold directly to the meatworks (not the store market).
Our aim is to sell them in the age range of 20–23 months (under two years of age).
The reason for going into beef is around my thoughts on where I feel the industry is heading compared to beef within the next five years in combination with the three last very dry seasons we’ve had around Macarthur.
Once we started looking into the beef side more, it still stacked up well for us here in this part of Western Victoria where we farm, relative to dairy.
Our beef enterprise is going to be run like we did with the dairy herd. That is, using intensive pasture and crop management, growing as much home-grown feed as we can and only buying-in feed when we need to.
We’ll just be producing kilograms of beef instead of kilograms of milk solids.”